‘Iron Jawed Angels’: The Inspirational Fight for Women’s Suffrage

For National Woman’s History month, Lifetime Television premieres Iron Jawed Angels, a film depicting the struggles activists Alice Paul and Lucy Burns faced when fighting for women’s suffrage. What may surprise most viewers is how young Paul (played by two time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank) and Burns (played by Frances O’Connor) were when they joined the fight for suffrage; Paul was only 23 and Burns was 29.

By the age of 23, most young females are choosing a career or finishing up grad school. By the age of 23, Paul was engaging in female suffrage movements in London, and by 27, she took over the National American Woman Suffrage Association’s (NAWSA) Washington, D.C. committee.

What ensues from the work of the two activists is a rich and striking story; “Utilizing a pulsing soundtrack, vivid colors, and a freewheeling camera, Katja von Garnier’s driving filmmaking style shakes up the preconceptions of the period film and gives history a vibrant contemporary energy and relevance,” proclaims the Sundance Film Guide. Alice Paul and Lucy Burns organize parades, stage protests, and create the National Woman’s Party. They are eventually arrested for picketing the White House. Refusing to pay a fee for peacefully expressing their opinions, the protestors are imprisoned and force fed when they go on a hunger strike to fight the sentence.

The pressures of opposing a president during war, the schism between public and private life, and the apathy and setbacks that the young and rebellious activists face resonate today with as much force. “People do not realize the amount of danger these women put themselves in. It is important to be appreciative, and remember how long and arduous the process [of women’s suffrage] really was,” notes a representative at Lifetime. Watching Iron Jawed Angels this Sunday, March 5th on Lifetime will certainly help people realize the gravity of the struggle for suffrage, and perhaps encourage viewers to engage in political activities with the same determination and passion as Alice Paul and Lucy Burns did not so very long ago.

*FYI:* The premiere of Iron Jawed Angels marks the launch of College Corps, Lifetime’s effort to get more females involved in local political activity. Lifetime plans to continue this project by showcasing movies about campus security and violence.